If Mike Crawley has learned one thing as he's travelled the country campaigning for president of the third party in Parliament it's that Liberals don't want to talk about leadership.
"There is zero appetite for discussion about leadership right now," the 42-year-old Toronto businessman told The Globe. "Members do not want to talk about leadership. They are sick and tired of endless leadership chatter for the last 10, 15 years and they want to talk about the party ... and for once stop talking about who the next saviour is going to be."
Mr. Crawley was in Ottawa for the Liberal Christmas party Thursday, where he will be shaking a few hands in his bid for president. The contest will be decided at the party's convention in mid-January.
He is running against four others, including former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps and former Quebec MP Alexandra Mendes. Mr. Crawley is the former president of the Ontario Liberal Party and is a strong candidate to replace current president Alfred Apps.
In an interview, he said Liberals have to shake off their feeling of entitlement. "The problem of the Liberal Party ... is [the notion]we're just one election away from getting back into power – our rightful place."
But that thinking has to change, he argued, pointing to data that shows the party's vote has declined in every election since 1993 with the exception of 2000. He calls that an "anomaly."
In addition, he noted that Liberals have not defeated a "single conservative party" since 1980 with the exception of 2004. Even then, they were only able to form a minority government.
Mr. Crawley suggested his party has to emulate the more centrist and cohesive approach of the Conservative Party – and that needs to be done in "record time." He kept using the word "cohesion" in speaking about how the party must be reorganized, arguing there are too many separate fiefdoms at present.
He is also deeply troubled by Stephen Harper's decision to phase out the $2-per-vote taxpayer subsidy for political parties. "I am terrified of it," he said. "If anything is going to force a change in the culture of the Liberal Party it's that."
For too long, he said, Liberals relied on their big corporate "sugar daddy" for funding, which was then replaced by the taxpayer subsidy. As a result, Liberals were never forced to really engage with voters.
"That is gone," Mr. Crawley said. "... Either the party figures out how to constantly engage or it's going to run out of money and it's going to be done."
He told a story about a Toronto-area Liberal riding association president who was called in the same week by both Conservative and Grit fundraisers.
The Conservative caller asked if he was worried about crime, if he was aware of the Harper government's crime legislation and then asked a number of other crime-related questions before he asked for money.
The Liberal caller simply asked if he was renewing his membership in the Laurier Club, which costs about $1,100 a year to join. The riding president said no and the caller hung up.
Mr. Crawley said that although the Tories didn't get any money they were still able to build a profile of the person they called and will likely follow up on issues of concern. The Liberals, meanwhile, got absolutely nothing.
Now about Bob Rae – and that pesky leadership question.
There is a view that the Interim Leader may run for the permanent job, although he has assured the current executive that he will not. It become a controversial topic when Ms. Copps said the new party executive could simply rewrite the leadership rules.
Mr. Crawley said, too, there is nothing stopping Mr. Rae from making a run for the top job.
"He made a particular commitment saying he would not seek the permanent leadership," Mr. Crawley said, adding that if he can explain his change of heart he will then be judged "positively or negatively" by the Liberals as a result.
There is one caveat: Mr. Crawley said Mr. Rae would have to resign as Interim Leader first, were he to change his mind.